by UnHerd
Wednesday, 17
February 2021
Reaction
09:08

Free speech on campus — what’s not to like?

It's not clear what critics of the Government's new white paper object to
by UnHerd
Why shouldn’t it be easier for academics, students and visiting speakers to have their rights upheld. Credit: Getty

It’s here. A new white paper setting out what the Government intends to do about protecting free speech and academic freedom in our universities.

The proposed measures fulfil a Conservative manifesto promise — prompting criticism that this just a stunt, a piece of political theatre. The white paper is a solution to problem that doesn’t exist, because there is no real threat to free speech — or so say a group of people whose own views, whether on Brexit, gender, religion or politics, place them entirely within the academic mainstream.

To which the obvious rejoinder is: how would they know? If it’s not them being cancelled, de-platformed or shouted down, then their ‘lived experience’ is limited. Even if they concede that there have been some regrettable incidents, but that these are isolated, how could they understand the impact on the willingness of a much larger number of people to speak out? The chilling effect on free speech is something that they might consider as a theoretical possibility, but it’s not something they can feel.

It should be said that free speech is already protected in law. There are the basic human rights of course, but also provisions that apply specifically to higher education. To quote from the white paper:

Section 43 of the Education (No. 2) Act 1986 places a duty on those concerned in the governance of all [higher education providers] registered with the [Office for Students]… to take reasonably practicable steps to ensure that freedom of speech within the law is secured for their members, students and employees, and for visiting speakers
- Free speech and academic freedom, GOV.UK
.

So what precisely are the critics of the white paper objecting to? Is it that these Section 43 duties exist at all? If so, I’d love to hear their arguments for why they should not.

But if they do support these duties — and the corresponding rights — then what is wrong with a white paper whose purpose is to close loopholes and to make it easier for people to access the protections they are legally entitled to?

There is a parallel here to legislation that protects people from discrimination on the basis of sex, race, age and other characteristics. It is all very well having these safeguards in theory, but if they also need to work in practice. This is why we have systems in place – for instance employment tribunals that reduce the cost and complications of getting justice.

Therefore, if it isn’t the principle of free speech that the critics of the white paper object to, then they need to explain why it shouldn’t be easier for academics, students and visiting speakers to have their rights upheld.

Join the discussion


To join the discussion, get the free daily email and read more articles like this, sign up.

It's simple, quick and free.

Sign me up
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
55 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Karen Lindquist
Karen Lindquist
1 year ago

It’s noteworthy that every time I say I believe in free speech and believe censorship is toxic and leads us at best to people simply hiding their grievances and letting them grow larger in the dark unseen, the progressive or academic I am speaking to reflexively snaps back “hate speech is not free speech.”
To which I say of course it is. This doesn’t include threats, as that is entirely different. But as recent as four days ago a former friend who now drinks the liberal kool-aid said “if someone said ‘Hitler was right” I’d have a problem with that.”
Fine, have a problem with that. But it’s still their right to say it. It might make them a totally hideous person, but hey, you don’t have to have them over for coffee. Just ignore them, or if it’s a public platform it’s easily to dissolve that perspective with facts and human decency.
But to deny the right to say it is in some manner to take a page out of Hitler’s playbook. And that never ends well.
As I watch academia and the western medical and psychiatric world and nearly every celebrity silence women who see our rights to free speech around our own bodies and families disappearing, I wonder how far it will go before the pendulum swings hard to the right again and we all find ourselves in a much less free place, possibly leading us off a cliff forever.
But hey, it’s all about forcing people to believe what you believe now, ain’t it? And forcing people always goes so well.
Thank goodness Climate disasters and the need to do increasing damage control to survive will shut up the crybullies who are pushing the end of free speech. Most of them won’t last long in a world where the act of “misgendering” them is akin to literally killing them.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
1 year ago

who gets to define what constitutes “hate speech” anyway? I don’t want these nannies doing it, and I doubt they would want some doing it. The phrase has become a dodge for justifying efforts to silence people who stray from the approved orthodoxy of the day, a moving target if one ever existed.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
1 year ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

I hate Gruner Veltliner and express this hatred on a regular basis. No doubt the Austrian winegrowers association or some such will come after me for ‘hate speech’.

D Ward
D Ward
1 year ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

I don’t disagree with you on much, Fraser, but you are wrong about the wine 🙂

Last edited 1 year ago by D Ward
Giles Toman
Giles Toman
1 year ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Very valid point. I hate religious extremists who try to force their bizarre beliefs on to everyone else. Should I be allowed to express my hatred? Or shut down for “hate speech”??

Marcus Millgate
Marcus Millgate
1 year ago

I fear the far left as much as the far right, think they’re just as bad as each other. I often wonder if those who think cancelling & censoring of those outside their groupthink are aware of the crimes committed in the name of communism.

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
1 year ago

When a regime known to be radical and left wing is eventually proven to have committed crimes, thence forward, they tend to be called right wing or conservative.

Anthony Devonshire
Anthony Devonshire
1 year ago
Reply to  Colin Elliott

That’s just wrong. The most egregious example, Stalinism, has never been redressed as something that emerged from the right. Pol Pot has never been revised nor in more relevant China.
Personally, I don’t have a problem with free speech – those that complain so vehemently that it is being suppressed, such as Toby Young, Julia Hartley-Brewer or the Spiked crew usually have a slew of pretty unpalatable opinions – for example regarding the pandemic – that discredit anything else they say. Your post is a classic example. You’re free to believe what you wrote but you then have to understand that you’re wrong. You provide no example orvevidence to back up your claim and have no credit anymore. People like you and others who I mentioned perversely do the most damage to free speech and its reputation because you and they are frequently the source of falsehoods. What value has freedom of speech if it is just spurious claims based on nothing in particular beyond what the speaker happens to think or feel at that particular moment. It then becomes just another relative concept.

Last edited 1 year ago by Anthony Devonshire
Marcus Millgate
Marcus Millgate
1 year ago

‘Unpalatable opinions’ – such as there are two sexes? Soon David Attenborough will be censored.

Stephen Follows
Stephen Follows
1 year ago
Reply to  Colin Elliott

Eg. National Socialism.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
1 year ago

What a sad testament of the times that free speech needs defending. But in a time of cancel culture and govt outsourcing censorship to private companies, it does. Too bad that those wiling to back it are far fewer than one might expect.

Anthony Devonshire
Anthony Devonshire
1 year ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

You might want to get a new set of cheerleaders if you believe there is such a threat. I mean, you really don’t help yourselves.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
1 year ago

I am sorry to use these words but……… The Daily Mail had a good article on Saturday about free speech. Basically, a woman in her mid-eighties had responded to a Twitter comment regarding a man who saw himself as a woman. She said something like, “I believe that if you are born a man you will always be a man.”
Her Twitter profile showed her picture and there was a response of, “Luckily, you are going to die soon so it doesn’t matter what you think.”
The police called her and said that technically she was close to a Hate Crime with her comment. Later, they retracted this. Interestingly, they did not have a problem with the man’s response.
So this lady, using her right of free speech was close to a Hate Crime but the man wasn’t. The reason for this is simple; ageism is not a Hate Crime.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Truth isn’t a hate crime, either, whatever ‘hate crime’ is. This is the embodiment of Orwell saying truth-telling becoming a revolutionary act. If you are born a man, that’s what you are. That’s what the autopsy will say. That’s what the DNA will say. Intersectionality is going to kill us all.

Brian Dorsley
Brian Dorsley
1 year ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

That’s what lies in the hearts of those pushing the transgender lie. It has nothing to do with transgender people at all, but more to do with how many lies we can swallow.
“Those who allow themselves to believe in absurdities will eventually come to commit atrocities”
I think there is something to that statement. Once you’ve allowed yourself to defend something as stupid as ‘men can be women’, it’s very hard to turn back from that. That is why many who’ve swallowed the transgender lie react with hatred and violence whenever it is questioned.

Pierre Brute
Pierre Brute
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

It would be laughable if it weren’t so disturbing.

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

I take it the police in her area are satisfactorily on top of crime.

fhealey1212
fhealey1212
1 year ago

Hate speech is an opinion and where do you draw the line?
Democrats have turned “peacefully and patriotically” into inciting violence while “get in their face, tell them they are not welcome here” is proper political posturing.
Once opinion becomes law then enlightened oligarchs will rule our speech, behavior and very existence.

mike otter
mike otter
1 year ago

As many have said reality hits students when they need a job – now with the virus panic they won’t even get to serve coffee and flip burgers which is what Social Science and Humanities/Liberal Arts degrees qualify you for. On a more sober note the thinking behind post modernist critical theory academia is not one bit different to Odinism or Lysenko’s fake biology. It may not last but will cause a lot of harm, as did its predecessors.

Mark Melvin
Mark Melvin
1 year ago

For some silly reason, this makes me happy. Until literally today I have witnessed the steadily declining standards in the UK that always seem to begin in schools, universities. Is this really the first step back towards common sense and common law being the way we live our lives? Or am I simply dreaming?

David Bottomley
David Bottomley
1 year ago
Reply to  Mark Melvin

I hope not. Like you I was heartened by the Paper and Williamson’s foreword

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
1 year ago

I believe in free speech if I can get it past the new censor.

Elise Davies
Elise Davies
1 year ago

The Left’s favourite wet dream, what they strive to achieve day after relentless day, is to be the sole arbiters of what is true, and what’s not true. What’s fake news and what isn’t. What constitutes hate speech and what sort of speech is acceptable.
It’s simplicity is quite terryfying. ‘We on the Left reserve the right to decide who can speak and who must be silenced’.That ‘right’ is based on nothing at all, apart from the self-certainty that they are morally correct.
Once you’ve convinced yourself that you’re morally correct it’s just a short step to refusing to accept other points of view. ‘Why are you arguing with me? I’m morally correct?’ And then ‘arguing with me when you know I’m morally correct is wrong’. And finally’I’m well within my rights to abuse you if you don’t argee with me. I’m morally correct and therefore any opinion you hold that I dissaprove of must be, by definition, morally incorrect.Therefore .I’m quite justified in de-platforming you.’

David Simpson
David Simpson
1 year ago
Reply to  Elise Davies

sadly, I don’t think it ends with “de-platforming” but with something much more terminal

simon taylor
simon taylor
1 year ago

Im surprised they dont have a problem with the fact it`s a white paper.

Last edited 1 year ago by simon taylor
Pierre Brute
Pierre Brute
1 year ago
Reply to  simon taylor

Nice one.

Pierre Brute
Pierre Brute
1 year ago
Reply to  Pierre Brute

Your keyboard has clearly undergone unconscious bias training.

Anthony Devonshire
Anthony Devonshire
1 year ago
Reply to  simon taylor

Hey, you should go into stand up. Reading through the comments here, I can’t escape the feeling that right-wing culture warriors are incredibly puerile.

Michael Whittock
Michael Whittock
1 year ago

It is about time action was taken to defend free thought and speech in our universities. But in addition to giving the law some teeth, attitudes, faculties and syllabuses(or is it syllabi) need attention. There is too much confrontation and not enough reflection, too many cultural Marxists doing the teaching, and too much left-wing bias in subjects taught. A little more diversity and equality in our universities please.

Anthony Devonshire
Anthony Devonshire
1 year ago

I hope you can see the absolute hypocrisy of what you posted! This website is hilarious because of the amount of bizarre claims and paranoia on show – you unherd guys have real chips on your shoulders.

Michael Whittock
Michael Whittock
1 year ago

No I’m afraid I can’t see any hypocrisy. These columns are filled with quite a lot of justifiable anger at the way things are going in our country.

David Bottomley
David Bottomley
1 year ago

It is to the lasting shame of the Cancel lot etc that we actually need a Paper. In my more reactionary moments I liken the Cancel lot with the likes of the worst of the days of Mao and others

Brian Dorsley
Brian Dorsley
1 year ago

I recently watched Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” and was surprised by how many parallels there were between 17th century America and Anglo cancel culture.

Brian Dorsley
Brian Dorsley
1 year ago

Free speech is not just for you and your friends, but also for those you hate and despise, otherwise it’s not really free speech.

Last edited 1 year ago by Brian Dorsley
Steve Gwynne
Steve Gwynne
1 year ago

It seems the Woke thought police with their bigotry, gaslighting and condescension, don’t want to be policed.

Pierre Brute
Pierre Brute
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Gwynne

Why would they, when their star is so in the ascendant? It’s scandalous these people have got this far at all.

Chris Hopwood
Chris Hopwood
1 year ago

Do these proposals mean that off campus one will be able to criticise the Queen and Churchill, say they didn’t clap for Capt Sir Tom etc?

simon taylor
simon taylor
1 year ago

Why is the first part of my post in little red writing ( or is it my very old laptop?)

Pierre Brute
Pierre Brute
1 year ago
Reply to  simon taylor

Your keyboard has clearly undergone unconscious bias training.

Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
1 year ago

What’s not to like? The White Paper is a threat to those who wish to force university undergraduates, the ruling class of tomorrow, to accept their ideology by depriving them of alternative viewpoints. Power and money, it’s that simple.

Andre Lower
Andre Lower
1 year ago

Joining this late, but want to point out that the real issue with accepting free speech without any kind of limitation is the real issue.
We all find free speech an unquestionably good idea when it aligns with our own values – or when it regards issues that don’t bother us.
However, our sympathy for free speech rapidly disappears once the ideas being “freely spoken” threat our deepest core values. Think of Hitler, Marx or anyone else whose use of free speech drove real harm onto people you identify with, then tell me that you are perfectly fine with protecting their right to free speech…
This is a conundrum akin to democracy’s vulnerability to populism – I see no solution for now, and anticipate inevitable casualties regardless of the choice taken.
Counting on a balance of power is very dangerous. History is full of examples of cunning “free speechers” attaining majority (temporary or not) and enabling their sympathysers to perpetrate wholesale barbarism. And none of these actual “free speechers” ever pulled a trigger themselves… they were only exercising their right to free speech…
Comments welcome.

Last edited 1 year ago by Andre Lower
Robert Forde
Robert Forde
1 year ago

Research by the government’s Office for Students found that of more than 62,000 requests by students for external speaker events in English universities in 2017-18, only 53 were rejected by the student union or university. Doesn’t look like a major problem.
However, the rightwing thinktank Policy Exchange perpetuated the myth that Germaine Greer had been no-platformed at Cardiff. She hadn’t, though there were protests, and her meeting took place. They knew this, but misquoted it anyway, and put Greer’s picture on the cover of their report. Presumably, they thought a famous face was needed.
A prominent thinktank lying about a non-problem in order to promote bogus legislation? Now that is a serious problem, in my view.

Mark Blagrove
Mark Blagrove
1 year ago

Telegraph today reporting that firms that lobby to rejoin the EU will be punished. Wonder if the white paper would support their freedom of speech if uttered in a university? But then maybe that’s not the government’s intent for the white paper!
https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/conservative/11127836/Businesses-that-speak-out-for-Britains-EU-membership-will-be-punished-vows-John-Redwood.html

Tim tim3
Tim tim3
1 year ago
Reply to  Mark Blagrove

Hardly today. The article is dated 28 September 2014 • 23:59 pm.

Mark Blagrove
Mark Blagrove
1 year ago
Reply to  Tim tim3

Thank you for correcting me on the date! I doubt that Redwood’s view has changed though, in his threatening of some free speech. and as the main cultural organisations / charities have been told to avoid promulgating some aspects of U.K. history, the government does seem to value only some contents of free speech.

Last edited 1 year ago by Mark Blagrove
mike otter
mike otter
1 year ago
Reply to  Mark Blagrove

Agreed. I think the left are particularly bad on the paradox of freedom but all politicians are guilty to some extent because they are, as a body, too thick to understand the paradox. So Tories banned Gerry Adams from the airwaves saying lets vote to unite Ireland when they already had laws to stop him advocating uniting it by force. Same with section 28 – how many people are turned gay by being told that homosexuality is a choice and can be a positive life style? None who weren’t gay or bi to start with, i’d wager.

Mark Blagrove
Mark Blagrove
1 year ago

Although governments can of course do many things at once, the coincidence of this proposal with the government having presided over the highest per capita Covid death toll in the world, and just as court actions start on billions of pounds payments to firms friendly to the Conservatives, and just as NI and Scotland are leaning towards leaving the U.K., all looks like a distraction from major failures.

Geoff Cooper
Geoff Cooper
1 year ago
Reply to  Mark Blagrove

If NI and Scotland’s people decide democratically that they wish their countries to leave the UK then that is their own decision and should be respected.

Mark Blagrove
Mark Blagrove
1 year ago
Reply to  Geoff Cooper

I agree. I linked the two as I wonder that the free speech white paper is being used as a distraction from the arguments about independence, and a distraction from this government being a good recruiter for the independence movements.

Mike Doyle
Mike Doyle
1 year ago
Reply to  Geoff Cooper

None of the ‘countries’ that make up the UK are real countries, we are all part of the United Kingdom that was created by fusing the older coutries into one. NI is a special case because of the Troubles and the Good Friday Agreement.
No part of the UK (except NI) has the right to secede from the UK, just as no state of the USA has a right to secede.
Any vote for secession for any part of the UK (except NI), should be UK wide. [Although many english voters would be happy to throw Scotland to the wolves.]

Mark Blagrove
Mark Blagrove
1 year ago
Reply to  Mike Doyle

But there was indeed a referendum on Scottish independence in 2014, so seceding is possible, and was not subject to a U.K. wide vote. All British parties seem to agree on such a vote being allowed again, they just differ on the timescale.

David Simpson
David Simpson
1 year ago
Reply to  Mike Doyle

Wales and Ireland were conquered by the English (quite a long time ago, so you may have simply forgotten). Scotland and England more or less freely agreed to be joined together by the Act of Union in 1707. By the same token, the Scots can freely decide to rescind the Act of Union. They are all certainly “real” countries, and I “really” am half Irish, half Scottish.

LUKE LOZE
LUKE LOZE
1 year ago
Reply to  David Simpson

The Normans in case you have forgotten invaded Wales. Welsh Normans were then the 1st to invade Ireland.

Peter Dunn
Peter Dunn
1 year ago
Reply to  Mark Blagrove

Cant you handle more than one issue at a time?

Mark Blagrove
Mark Blagrove
1 year ago
Reply to  Peter Dunn

I can, and so can governments, but obviously governments can also start disputes on some occasions so as to distract from their poor performance.